The holidays can get hectic with holiday parties, shopping, baking, gift giving and gift making and it can be easy to ignore learning in all the hubbub. I don’t want that to happen so I present the Christmas Science Experiments series: a 5-day series on Christmas Science Experiments.
My biggest tip is to combine some of your other holiday experiences and traditions with STEM experiences – it is easier and more fun than you think.
Top 5 Christmas Science Experiments
# 1 Kitchen Science – Jams, Jellies, and Fruit Butters
We do a lot of baking and cooking over the holidays and LOVE to share our treats with family and friends. This first idea is a great way to combine STEM with Homemade gift making.
Christmas Science Experiment #1
Make Fruit Butters
Kitchen science can be a great way to create hands-on experiences that are approachable and often delicious. I’ve talked about kitchen chemistry before. This is a little different.
Experiments require that you test a variable. A great thing to test with fruit butter is to try out different recipes and see how different fruits, different amounts of sugar, and different amounts of acid will impact the pectin in the fruit butter and the texture.
Start with an apple butter recipe that is a success. We LOVE crockpot apple butter, but you can use a recipe for the stovetop since testing in small batches to determine the best consistency and taste might be more economical.
The Science of Apple Butter
Fruit butter (and many jams and jellies) relies on pectin.
What is pectin?
Pectin is a type of carbohydrate. Carbohydrates are one of four basic organic molecules in living things. The other organic molecules are fats, proteins, and nucleic acids.
Carbohydrates are the primary source of energy for plants and animals, but more complex carbohydrates (polysaccharides) have structural functions in a few animal and all plants. Typically the star of the plant structure show is cellulose, but pectin is essential. Think of cellulose as the wood in a wood framed house, but the pectin would be like the nails holding the wood together.
You can purchase pectin and other starches to let kids see how they behave. Many starches will need to “bloom” this is easily accomplished by adding water and heat. A touch of lemon juice will usually speed up the process.
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Starches to Use…
Xanthan Gum Gluten Free(8 oz) – USA Packaged & Filled in a Dedicated Gluten & Nut Free FacilityNOW Foods Guar Gum Powder, 8-OunceSure Jell Premium Fruit Pectin For Homemade Jams And Jellies, 100% Natural 1.75 oz (2 Packs)Argo 100% Pure Corn Starch, 16 OzBob’s Red Mill, Potato Starch, 24 Ounce
Do all fruits have pectin?
The simple answer is yes, but there are different amounts. Today’s focus is on the natural pectin in fruit and how to combine fruits and acid for the best results. The best sources of pectin are apples, berries, and peaches. Click here for a full list.
We recently made crockpot apple pear butter that turned out perfect.
What about acid?
It will help remove the pectin from the cell walls in order to form a gel. You will often see acid added to jams and jellies in the form of lemon juice.
This is the apple butter recipe we used as the base and then we make changes as needed
- 20 apples, cored and cut into pieces
- 2-3 cups of sugar
- Season to taste: apple pie spice, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, allspice Whatever you prefer is fine. Around 2-3 tsp of seasoning is suggested, but you know your family’s preferences.
- Add everything to the crockpot and let cook on low for about 10 hours.
- Use an immersion blender or blender on the pulse to break up the remaining chunks.
- Taste for seasoning and add as needed.
- It is ready to eat….
- You can store in fridge for quite a while or freeze or can.
To make this the perfect Christmas science experiment, you can extend the project by learning to can. If you want the apple butter to be able to sit on a shelf or box until it is opened, you’ll need to can the apple butter.
What does canning do?
Canning kills any bacteria that might have been present during the cooking process and seals the jar to prevent more bacteria from entering. Once the seal is broken the jar has to be refrigerated to decrease the rate of bacterial growth.
This is similar to sterilizing baby bottles when babies are very young.
Granite Ware 0719-1 Enamel-on-Steel Canning Kit with Blancher, 12-PieceNorpro Jelly Strainer Stand with Bag56 Chalkboard Labels & 3 Colored Chalk Markers (Black Labels) – Excellent Quality for Parties, Ingredient Labeling, and More!Ball Mason 8oz Quilted Jelly Jars with Lids and Bands, Set of 12
Canning is a skill that is making a come back.
Luckily, you don’t have to count on me for your canning needs. I have a FREE resource that you can grab from The Domestic Wildflower called Canning Basics. She walks you through the USDA guidelines for safe canning and has tons of recipes and canning ideas for you. We are actually going to be canning some syrups this fall as gifts.
This is part of the 5 Days of Christmas Series hosted by iHomeschool Network
Looking for more information about pectin in plants? Follow these links.